For a sector that was battered by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, the budget announcements that State Tourism Minister M Mathiventhan made in the Assembly last week could not have come at a better time.
The inflow of tourists triggers a positive ripple effect. The travellers spanning the entire gamut of the economic spectrum commute not only by taxis and self-driven cars, but also by auto-rickshaws. They stay at star hotel chains, niche resorts, smaller lodges and home-stays. They dine on familiar food at quick-service restaurants, leading hotels, and in the case of the more adventurous ones, roadside eateries as well. They make purchases at silk showrooms and small curio shops in tourist spots. In short, the money that a tourist spends travels across strata. In the case of foreign tourists, this also brings in precious foreign exchange.
But here’s the catch. If one were to ask a friend, where he or she intended to take a staycation, chances are they would list out Goa, Kerala and Karnataka as their choice of destinations. And it’s a shame because TN has no shortage of idyllic beaches or mountain ranges to fit every budget. States like Kerala have piggybacked on taglines like ‘God’s Own Country’, thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign, that has spared no expense in exoticising itself to both domestic and international travellers. TN, which was the number one destination for domestic tourists for the consecutive years from 2014 to 2018, and was second in 2019, has a lot to do vis-a-vis aggressive promotion of its touristy assets. The government must realise that in a sector driven chiefly by publicity and marketing, being understated is not a virtue. In these days of asset monetisation, the State has the opportunity to unlock the value of resources that are intangible but arguably inexhaustible: nature and culture.
TN has unexplored beaches; beautiful hill stations, many of which are still pristine; majestic temples that offer a glimpse into the rich past; and in Keeladi, it has an archaeological treasure trove where more secrets are being unearthed with each passing day. Developing tourism is inherently a public-private partnership that requires much less capital: the government builds basic infrastructure, private parties build establishments that serve the tourists; authorities regulate, businesses offer services at various price points, and customer reviews determine the success. What is required is a better policy on development and regulation, and attention to detail.
Encouragingly, TN’s Tourism Minister had also declared that the government is keen on developing the Tamil Nadu Tourism Policy, which will offer an industry status to tourism. As part of this fresh approach, one can expect the revitalisation of lesser-known tourist destinations and an increased contribution of stakeholders that could lead to a spike in footfall. A new Tourism Destination Development Scheme will give wings to further promotional activities. It must be reiterated that while developing newer tourist spots, the government can and should ensure that all initiatives are eco-friendly, clean and safe for women and families. By ensuring that local communities in these regions are onboarded as partners, it can also ensure a development model that is equitable and sustainable. It is about time the stakeholders work towards achieving the full potential of tourism in Tamil Nadu.